ALOR SETAR: The Ulu Muda Forest Reserve is rich in biodiversity but all this could soon disappear if nothing is done to protect the natural habitat and wildlife.
Although the Kedah government have revoked logging permits in the massive jungle, the fragile ecosystem can still be easily accessible via the logging roads.
Earth Lodge chief executive officer Hymeir Kamarudin said although logging had stopped, no decision has been made to fully protect it from illegal activities.
He said there were 117 recorded mammals in Ulu Muda including endangered species like tigers, leopards, the marbled cat, the clouded leopard and tapirs, to name a few.
“There are uncountable entry points created for logging purposes which allow vehicles to enter the forest. There is also access for local people and the Earth Lodge, but there is no reason to have access from logging roads leading to Sira Ayer Panas (saltlick-hot spring) where wildlife frequent. This will probably chase the wildlife away.
“These are mineral lakes. It is a concentrated resource here and needs to be protected. If you have people coming in four-wheel drives, it is very bad as they damage the saltlick-hot spring,” he said while inspecting tyre tracks during a reconnaissance of the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve with local newsmen who were on a three-day trip to experience the biodiversity of the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve.
Hymeir said he has come across oil drippings from vehicles and even car parts at times.
“There are several entry points and if they are poachers, they can take wildlife and forest products.
“What we have here in the natural habitat is very precious. We are one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world. I think we were once in the top 12 bracket but have since gone down in placing,” said Hymeir, a conservationist.
He said those involved in the decision-making of gazetting Ulu Muda as a state park should visit the forest reserve.
“Visiting the forest reserve and experiencing the biodiversity will make them better understand the need to preserve Ulu Muda Forest Reserve. We are trying to get people from the related ministries and state executive councillors to come down here,” he said.
University of Nottingham School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences Prof Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, who is the principle investigator for the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants project, said elephants in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve play a significant role in managing the ecosystem.
He said there were only three species of elephants in the world – the Asian elephant, the African forest elephant and African savanna elephant (African bush elephant).
“In the peninsular, we could say that this is the best place to witness elephants in the wild, wandering around in their own natural habitat.
“For elephants in particular, it is the best place that remains unprotected. They are not just mega-fauna but also animals that are considered ecosystem engineers. Forests like Ulu Muda need elephants as much as elephants need the forest here.
“Logging opens doors for people to come in via road access into the forest. These create avenues for poachers and cause animals to be trafficked, elephants especially for their tusks.
“If their habitat is disrupted, many of these animals will disappear soon if no protection is given to them,” he said.
Dr Ahimsa said people usually come in to harvest Gaharu wood and they spend about three months in the forest.
“They also set up snares. If they catch any animal that is valuable, it is even better for them. If it is protected, it will include legislation, and patrolling law enforcement. It will be much better for management of the reserve,” he said.
In September last year, the state revoked logging permits for the reserve and suspended the issuance of new ones.
It was reported that with Kedah sacrificing its revenue from forest premiums for the sake of water security in northern Malaysia, Land, Water and Natural Resources Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar said the federal government was now studying ways to compensate Kedah in preserving Ulu Muda Forest Reserve.
Penang, which gets 80% of its water supply from Sungai Muda flowing out of this jungle, has repeatedly called for the federal government to compensate Kedah for protecting the jungle.
Earth Lodge promotes ecotourism and is a small basic lodge providing green accommodation in the lush reserve. It is also home to the Ulu Muda Field Research Centre.